Past Issues of Government Technology

The Word on Access

The Word on Access

by / February 12, 2001 0
The Americans with Disabilities Act celebrated its 10th anniversary last July with a look back at 10 years of progress. However, there is still much to be done. This month, we looked at access to government services by people with disabilities as well as public-sector employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We found four sources directly involved in both aspects of access and solicited their comments.

Curtis Chong

Curtis Chong is the technology director of the National Federation of the Blind.

"What were seeing now is the intent of the law becoming more firm. The Access Board (U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) is doing a lot of work on the access information and electronic-technology provision of [Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973], and has come out with a notice of proposed rule making, which has not yet been promulgated as official. If it is enforced as the advocates hope it is, you will find in the procurement process that more attention is given to accessibility issues from the get-go."

"Youre not guaranteed when you walk onto that job, whether its federal, state or local government, that the software you have to use on the computer is going to work with access software for the blind. Just about every job you get nowadays will require you to run a computer. You can just about count on the fact that the agency youre going to work for doesnt have any expertise in this area at all, because frankly, if youre the first blind person whos ever worked there, why should they?"

"If we can get the notion across that the odds are that the stuff they develop will be used by somebody whos disabled, then they will begin to wonder how it is that their software should be made accessible. If they do this when theyre building it, we have a much higher likelihood that the result will work for us."

Charles Kaplan

Charles Kaplan is the associate director of the California Governors Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons, a public/private partnership of volunteer members dedicated to increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The volunteer committee members receive staff support from the state Employment Development Department (EDD).

"Different disability groups have different issues, from the deaf community [for whom we need to make] sure we have interpreters available, to architectural access that the state architects office is working on.

"Theres a lot of state government offices out there and everybody has to go through their bureaucracy to get things moving along, but we work with the state architects office to try to make sure we remove the physical barriers and have the programmatic access. For instance, EDD has CalJOBS, which is our [state and federal] job postings, [and] individuals can put their resumes on it. Thats been something thats pretty accessible to all individuals."

"Another ongoing issue is Web site updates. There really havent been any universal standards. Everybody is looking at either the Department of Justice or EEOC for guidelines, but everybody sort of does it on their own and there really arent any uniform standards on the national level."

Leonard Kasday

Leonard Kasday is a professor of electrical engineering at Temple University and faculty staff member on the universitys Institute on Disabilities. He also chairs the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Evaluation and Repair Tools Group.

"One of the big obstacles is that technology just races ahead, and accessibility tends to be in catch-up mode. The basic issue is that you have policies and theyre directed more toward the things that impact the person with a disability."

"Most accommodations dont require fancy technology. However, there are some that do, and then the employer is faced with: "Well, I want to accommodate this individual but where are the products for me to do this?" The new 508 legislation is going to help with the products, but then you can still have a software manufacturer who wants to make something accessible. But the equipment manufacturers dont start out with sand from the beach and make silicon; they build on operating systems [and] they build on architectures, and that foundation makes it easy to add accessibility. Some make it hard to add accessibility, depending upon whether it was built right in there at the very ground level."

"I wish we didnt need ADA, but we do. And Im hoping, in fact, that its scope is extended into cyberspace. If I go into a store in the mall, it has to be accessible. If that mall opens up something on the Web, it seems to be common sense that that ought to be accessible too."

Stephanie Sweet

Stephanie Sweet is a former civil rights counselor who provided information and guidance to persons with disabilities related to their civil rights.

"One of the most common obstacles that employees with disabilities face is the ignorance or lack of accurate information from prospective employers and co-workers. In addition to misinformation, obstacles that people with disabilities face include inaccessible facilities, such as no ramp for wheel chair users, inaccessible bathrooms or lack of adaptive technology for computers. With the proper assistive technology or accommodation, most employees with disabilities perform their jobs with the same competence as able-bodied people."

"Government agencies were better equipped to address the needs of people with disabilities, because they have greater access to accurate information and they have funds set aside for reasonable accommodations. They also receive training or information from other sources, like the Department of Rehabilitation (DR). The ADA Unit in the DR is also available for consultation with regard to implementing ADA-related questions for public and private employers. The Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors (VRC), who work directly with the clients of the DR, also talk with potential employers to discuss ways of accommodating employees as they transition into work in the public or private sphere."

"The difficulty is overcoming the idea that hiring a person with a disability is going to cost money -- in terms of providing an accommodation -- which is not necessarily true. In fact, the opposite may well be the case. Most of the difficulties involved in hiring have little or nothing to do with the person; they have to do with misinformation on the part of an employer or co-worker."
Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor Justice and Public Safety Editor